When science is undone by fiction.

Jo Chandler

JO Chandler, The Age, June 29 2011

The myth of Climate-gate has endured because of media failings.

GEOLOGIST and long-time climate change denialist Bob Carter materialised on this page on Monday, reprising a weary routine – tiptoeing through the scientific archive to find the morsels of data that might, with a twirl here and a shimmy there, contrive to support his theory that global warming is a big fat conspiracy.

Meanwhile, in real news, the journal Nature Geoscience published a paper by American and British scientists that found West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier is now melting 50 per cent faster than in 1994 (see below).

In an effort to better understand the hidden mysteries of ice sheet dynamics, which have obvious implications for every coast on the planet, the team also sent a submarine beneath the floating portion of the ice. It found the glacier had broken free from the ridge that once grounded it, allowing warmer waters to circulate and melt it from beneath. This had long been the theory – now they had some observed evidence.

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The hastening retreats of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers have been closely monitored by scientists for decades. Their collapse is a nightmare cited as one of the tipping-point scenarios scientists most fear – potentially pulling the plug to drain the western ice plateau, and possibly even destabilising the sleeping giant next door: the East Antarctic ice sheet.

The uncertainties of these processes are to blame for the wide, wild variations in anticipated global sea level rise – the hottest, most disputed topic in forecasts for a warmer world. So you might imagine that this latest insight would merit a mention. But it didn’t make the cut for publication in any Australian newspapers.

The murky, under-the-waterline mysteries of media dynamics are no less confounding than those determining the movement of glaciers, and no less potentially catastrophic in terms of implications for informing policy debate and climate action.

But there are no laws of physics or nature to provide a framework to explain the vagaries of the media machine, which seems utterly overwhelmed by the task of telling the story on climate science. There is, in truth, nothing very scientific about the processes that determine what makes news in this critical debate. It’s a crap shoot. Often, you get crap.

At the heart of Carter’s argument against the science is the claim that the credentials of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and hence its authority in underpinning policy such as a carbon tax – were ”badly damaged by the leaked ‘Climate-gate’ emails in November 2009”. He’s right – terrible damage was wrought by the accusations that scientists had behaved without integrity or honesty.

What Carter fails to then mention is that, at last count, there have been eight separate inquiries by British and US government agencies, independent panels and universities. Their findings have consistently upheld the honesty and integrity of the scientists. None have identified wrongdoing, and the science was unassailed.

The great scandal of Climate-gate is the failure of the media to recognise and report the findings of these inquiries. That failure allowed the shadow of Climate-gate to endure, and it has been identified as a powerful, albeit hollow, thief of public confidence in critical, evolving science.

Climate-gate, a triumphant moment in the machinery of manufactured doubt, continues to be used to obscure where the live debate is actually occurring. If you want a taste of the fiery end of it, you might like to pay heed to a gathering in Melbourne next month of international experts contemplating a future with 4 degrees or more of warming. (fourdegrees2011.com.au)

It might be argued that the devotion of scientists to identify consensus on climate forecasts – and the sensitivity of the media to brokering anything that might be labelled alarmist – has also nobbled debate.

The valiant efforts of scientists to deliver to policymakers and the public a coherent, consensus voice on climate change moderates the messages, substituting worst-case for best-guess, itself a distortion. As veteran British climate writer Fred Pearce reflected in the wake of the 2007 IPCC report, ”some people accuse the IPCC of being alarmist. On the contrary, my reading is that [it] worked so hard to assuage the concerns of its critics that it left out all the things its authors really fear.”

Further distortions in the debate are rendered by clumsy efforts of the media to achieve ”balance”, or contrived efforts to drum up controversy. But as new Chief Scientist Ian Chubb argued last week, ”if 99 people say one thing and one person says another thing, the one person has a right to have their view on the table, but they don’t have a right to be given the same amount of time and space as the 99 without qualification”.

Recent surveys of active climate scientists (those publishing in the area) calculate that 97 in every 100 have views which reflect those of the international academies of science: the planet is warming, this is human caused, and it is dangerous. Most are unlikely to ever have the gift of this page to explain their findings.

Therefore, a more balanced, rigorous and honest rendering of their work is critical to elevating the political and public debate on climate. ”The media has a particular and important role to play,” said Chubb, ”and the sooner they play it better, the better.”

Jo Chandler is a senior writer and author of Feeling The Heat, which tracks climate science field work.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/when-science-is-undone-by-fiction-20110628-1gp26.html#ixzz1QcDNixqf


24 thoughts on “When science is undone by fiction.

  1. Ove,
    Surprised you have made no mention of some good news of reef conditions on the GBR 1995-2009. Seems this article contradicts much of what you have been saying of late. Any comment? Or are you still busy appropriating your students work?

    Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009)
    Monitoring data collected annually from fixed sites at 47 reefs across 1300 km of the GBR indicate that overall regional coral cover was stable (averaging 29% and ranging from 23% to 33% cover across years) with no net decline between 1995 and 2009.

    • Have a look at the paper by Terry Hughes just published in Coral Reefs. The paper reveals that the AIMS data is limited to particular areas and doesn’t tell the whole story. The truth is, we have been lucky so far with the GBR and warming … but the tolerance of corals is running just 0.9oC below the threshold for bleaching for corals … and sea temperatures are increasing at the rate of 0.2oC per decade … so it isn’t so much just about coral dead up to now – it is the future.

        • What’s not to get? once SST’s are permanently beyond a certain point, Bleaching will occur permanently, but it’s not like MarcH is really interested, he is just another chucklehead, marching with the likes of Bolt to overturn reality.

          • What’s not to get? – you don’t seem to get that the oceans are cooling and sea surface temps are declining.

            see my link below

      • The idea that sea temperature is rising globally at a rate of 0.2C per decade is not a fact. I have studied oceanographic data before that showed great variability in temperatures per annum.

        Nor is the assertion that all corals bleach at a certain temperature true. It would be interesting, to me, to see where you have read these “scientific facts”. Your statements are incorrect, and I wish you would give more thought to the other side of the story.

        What it seems to me you are doing is trying to “educate” the public on your view. But your view is not definitely correct. I don’t exactly know what your view is, but it seems to conform with a crowd, much like the “beliefs” of politicians and religious nuts.

        You should either stop pretending that you “believe” in this shit (for want of a better word) you put up, or start looking at this debate from the perspective of science, and not from the perspective of a movement. Because I believe you and the other people who write about climate “science” are just trying to be sensational so that people will read your stuff, and so you can get popularity or money.

        I don’t think that is beneficial to any group for people to write like you because you are acting nuts. You are just creating division with your close mindedness, and I believe a much stronger effort could be made in renewable energy if people were to work together.

        I am seriously concerned about your movement and the people who, like you, think it is good to act religiously for something you don’t understand. I think you are as bad as the republicans for blocking progress.

        • I think environmental science could also prosper as a science if you people would leave it alone and let it develop as a SCIENCE instead of treating it like it is some type of belief.

      • Just found a paper that discusses some of the region I studied. Saying sea-surface temperatures are rising 0.2C per decade is wrong.

        Shearman, R.K., and S.J. Lentz, 2010.
        “Long-term sea surface temperature variability along the U.S. east coast.” Journal of Physical Oceanography, 40(5), 1004-1017.:

        Quote: “The observations and a simple model show that along-shelf transport, associated with the mean coastal current system running from Labrador to Cape Hatteras, is the mechanism controlling long-term temperature changes for this region and not the local air–sea exchange of heat.”


        Stop lying and just admit that you want to study the environment. Just admit that you want to be a scientist, or else go be a minister or writer like JO Chandler who is and stop pretending to be authorities in science. Stop calling people crazy for disagreeing with the idea that the world is going to melt (all contributors to this blog). What you people do is not science. You are a joke to the scientific community.

  2. The reality is that the Sweatmen et al 2011 and Hughes et al 2011 papers show that coval cover on the GBR in the mid 2000s had declined to average about 22% from much higher figures – 28% in 1986 from Sweatman et al or above 40% in the 1960s from Hughes et al due to water quality, crown of thorns and climate change impacts. Recently declines may have eased a bit as there have been less crown of thorns around but that may now change as the populations of COTs at Green Island seem to be on the rise again and this may signal (yet to be confirmed) the beginning of the 4th wave of outbreaks. COTs are linked to water quality changes to the GBR and have been the most destructive agent of coral mortality over the last 50 years.

  3. What’s not to get? – you don’t seem to get that the oceans are cooling and sea surface temps are declining.

    see my link below

    I’m seeing a running theme of deception & misinformation from you Janama. Maybe you can sell your wares at WUWT, Nova, CA etc? There is certainly bound to be buyers over there.

  4. Ove,
    Surprised you have made no mention of some good news of reef conditions on the GBR 1995-2009.

    Marc, surprised you made no mention this has nothing to do with the science for you, but it’s more of a case that you see yourself as a conservative foot soldier defending the conservative ideology at all cost.

    It’s strange how the main opposition & most vociferous opponents to AGW & any action towards it are conservatives in Australia, Canada & the USA is it not? Deniers for hire. Strange how Australia, Canada & the USA also happen to have some of the biggest fossil fuel companies & deposits in the world & that massive donations are paid by these companies to conservative parties to represent their views. Gee, I wonder what stance the Liberal party will have? opposition to less fossil fuel funding opposition to the science around AGW. Strange how there is little of this vociferous opposition where there is less fossil fuel deposits or corporations that the conservatives need to pander to e.g N.Z, UK, Gemany, France, Denmark.

    The rusted on conservative devotees in turn hit the airwaves & blogosphere to spread their misinformation over & over again & cry conspiracy when their below average papers are not accepted by peer review.Legitimate climate scientists have to suffer through the same process of having handfuls of papers not making it through & just move on. Yet deniers, who are often not even in the relevant field don’t make it through after just ONE & it’s a giant conspiracy. Get over yourselves.

  5. Tribal collectivism is always the signifier that we have left the realm of science and are now talking brute politics driven pseudo-religious faith. The debate is over and the time to do as we command is NOW!

    “I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

    Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.

    In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    -A Caltech Lecture by Michael Crichton


    • So Wes, if you should have the misfortune of contracting cancer no doubt you will not be going with the consensus of various doctors for your treatment, seeing how consensus means it’s not science.

  6. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    Great! When deniers come up with something of note let us know. Obviously if it’s picked apart and shredded on the blogosphere, then it’s unlikely to pass the peer review process. In the 7 years I’ve been following this subject online, I am yet to see an unanswered theory put forth by deniers.

  7. Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.

    In science consensus is irrelevant.

    Because clearly….medical people are the natural go to guys when it comes to information on climate change. Just like the AMA prefers it if Ove speaks at their conferences on medical matters. Because hey, you wouldn’t want people thinking there is a consensus. After all, just one medical study can over turn countless preceding studies….& it could be ANYONE that overturns that science. Not necessarily a doctor, it could be some dungeons & dragons expert! So lets not commit to any agreement…ever!

    The UN can get bus drivers to go to international conferences instead of political representatives, because hey, we wouldn’t want there to be the appearance that there is a consensus of countries in favour of one thing or another.

    We could get experts at space invaders video games to take over the role of the experts who establish aeronautic safety regulations. Because we wouldn’t want there to appear to be a consensus, that everyone agrees on one set of standards. Oh no, that’s a shameful word isn’t it.

    The greatest scientists in history

    That’s the key though isn’t it Wes……scientists. How many were NOT scientists, or not scientists of the relevant field that bucked the consensus & changed everything we knew? There maybe a few examples here & there, but for the vast majority of science, no.

    When deniers come up with a new reproducible result instead of just opinion, science as a whole will be only more than happy to adopt the new position & form a new consensus.

  8. Phil_M – instead of attacking me please address my link. The PDO was +ve throughout the 80s and the 90s. In 2001-2 it reverted back to a negative cycle and the oceans and SST have reacted accordingly.

    Please explain where this is deception & misinformation.

  9. Phil_M – instead of attacking me please address my link.

    As James said Janama, you used a fairly small times series. Why not just do it year to year if you are going to plot such a short trend. Oh look it’s down now, ohhh oh…stop the press, wait it’s up this year, ohh wait, it’s down the next year.

    Have a look at your graph now with a 40 year trend.


    Or even a 20 years trend


    Or hey, even an 11 year trend from 2000.


    Waiiiit a minute. Is “Janama” a pseudonym for Bob Carter?

  10. @John

    “The truth, in my opinion, is that we barely have a clue about this planet.”

    So John. Should we strive to continue to understand the planet and build on previous knowledge?

    Obviously that is a dilemma for skeptics, because after all the ONLY reason scientists investigate climate change is for those juicy grants.They never went to uni to learn science ….because it interested them….it was ALWAYS about them juicy grants, which of course they would entirely pocket & then tell the taxpayer the money ran out and can we have some more? Forbes top 100 is just full of scientists.

    It’s a real dilemma. We want to understand the planet, but scientists are collaborating worldwide for more grants and are manipulating their findings. What to do?

    Maybe have ALL scientific research funded by the private sector? Because we know they don’t have their profits in mind, it’s all about the love of the people.

    “but only a couple of hundred years of anything close to scientific data tracking.”

    The 600k year old ice cores say differently.

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